‘Growth Mindset’ – How can martial arts help kids in their lives outside the dojo?

Photo: Steve Brown

Kids need martial arts now more than ever before. Governed by targets, schools have had to sacrifice creative play to desks and data. The skill of being a good learner – usually developed from trial and error – is having to be introduced as an extra thread of ‘growth mindset’ to attempt some balance for the spoon-feeding strategies most teachers need to employ.

Luckily for the children in martial arts classes, we have the answers to these issues. Self control, discipline, confidence, teamwork, leadership, perseverance…we teach it all! It’s the ideal way to help children access their education more effectively, and to become more successful in their lives.

Peter is 4. He’s had little experience of rough-and-tumble due to family circumstances. He has had the benefit of the full attention of his mother but little experience of having things snatched from him. He doesn’t know how to claim his space in the playground, or take turns diplomatically when there is no supervising adult. He also finds it devastating to lose a game. As his instructor, it is fantastic to see him develop these skills and become a thoughtful and resilient learner… one who can get back up and shake off a bump with some ‘black belt breathing’; one who can manage pairwork and sharing. He’s even learned that losing game is not worth a tantrum. He shrugs off his disappointment and congratulates the winners.

Alice is 18. Years of martial arts training helped her overcome her shyness and she’s been assisting in classes for some time. She’s studied hard for her Black Belt and has learned to divide her time with schoolwork, dojo and friends because she has applied discipline in small things…which became big things. She was nervous for her university interview but she drew on her years of competition experience to step into the room knowing she was prepared, and could be calm under pressure. Alice is an excellent learner with a bright future.

Jennie is 7. She is in emergency foster care after being rescued from a family situation too dreadful to contemplate. She barely talks – partly from trauma, and partly because of the neglect she has experienced. She has no foundations and no boundaries. She cannot attend school. Yet, in the dojo she has found a welcoming environment where she can regain some sense of physical confidence. She can run safely and use her feet and fists to feel powerful and to find control. She is allowed to shout and is praised when she knows when to be loud and when to be quiet. She is learning to sit still, and is rewarded when she gets it right. Jennie may never recover from her past; we know that. But for a couple of hours a week she can feel strong and safe. And that will give her some building blocks as she moves on in her unfair, difficult life journey.

As martial arts instructors we have the incredible privilege of developing real life skills for our students. I am sad for the majority of kids who learn their perseverance from a buzzwords powerpoint in school assembly. I’ve seen the effectiveness of martial arts training all over the world, not least for my students in India whose lives have been transformed by the lessons of hard work, repetition, progress and reward.

So let’s take some time to recognize the value of what we do. Sure, our students will gain specific technical benefits from the programmes we run. However, ask yourself, what is more important? The impressive spinning kick, or the process required to develop it? The Black Belt, or the years of steady attendance essential to earn it? The medals, or the courage and confidence to step on the mats after losing time and again?

The historic value system in martial arts is our biggest asset – not just because it appeals to parents searching to support their children in life – but because it truly delivers.

Written by Mary Stevens, the author of the Warrior Monkeys - Martial Arts adventure stories for young readers.

MC Stevens is also a martial arts instructor with 17 years’ experience in karate, weapons, and jiu jitsu. A former English and History teacher at secondary school level, she also works for an international charity which empowers young girls in developing countries, using karate as a tool to develop confidence and self-determination.

Warrior Monkeys and the Volcano Adventure

Something weird is happening on the island of Senshi. The Warrior Monkeys are worried that a dangerous enemy has come back to seek revenge. Suki and Bekko are brave enough to find out why wild dogs are on the prowl, why Mount Niru is rumbling and stinky, and who has brainwashed an army of meerkats.

This is the first title in an exciting and dramatic new series, written by martial arts expert MC Stevens and illustrated throughout by Steve Brown. Suki and Bekko are training to be Warrior Monkeys. They're a brave and resourceful duo and, with the help of their armoured bear, Kuma, are ready to face any of the harsh challenges and evil plots that threaten the safety of their island home.

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